Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator (1998)


(director: F. Gary Gray; screenwriters: Kevin Fox/James DeMonaco; cinematographer: Russell Carpenter; editor: Christian Wagner; cast: Samuel L. Jackson (Danny Roman), Kevin Spacey (Chris Sabian), David Morse (Commander Beck), Ron Rifkin (Commander Frost), John Spencer (Chief Al Travis), J.T. Walsh (Inspector Niebaum), Regina Taylor (Karen Roman), Paul Giamatti (Rudy), Siobahn Fallon (Maggie); Runtime: 139; Warner Brothers; 1998)
“A slickly done and predictable summer escapist film, based on an actual hostage situation in St. Louis.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slickly done and predictable summer escapist film, based on an actual hostage situation in St. Louis. The story will now be taking place in Chicago. It makes for a tense actioner pitting veteran Chicago hostage negotiator Lt. Danny Roman (Jackson), wrongly accused of his partner’s murder and the misappropriation of a police disability fund, against his counterpart, negotiator Lt. Chris Sabian (Spacey). They are both known to be cool customers under pressure, each trying to resolve their negotiations without bloodshed.

Danny is the best negotiator on the force. The twist in the story comes about when Danny takes hostages in a federal building in order to get the real culprits who have framed him for murder. He does this after his partner is executed gangland-style in the spot where he was to meet him and be given information about the money stolen from the police fund, and about why he shouldn’t trust the Department of Internal Affairs.

This situation gives Danny a chance to match wits with Sabian, and the two stellar actors take it from there. They both try talking through the tough situation they are in. And since Danny knows all the tricks of his trade, the fun is to watch him try to get out of this jam. The only thing the story surprisingly lacked was intelligent dialogue.

It’s all routine-fare, with hardly any surprises. Stylish and carefully orchestrated, The Negotiator asks how well you really know someone whom you have been friends with, even if it is as long as 20 years.

The cast includes David Morse, in a robotic role as S.W.A.T. leader Adam Beck, J.T. Walsh as Internal Affairs Chief Terence Niebaum (Walsh died shortly after this film), Ron Rifkin as the less than trustworthy Commander Frost, Siobahn Fallon as Niebaum’s assistant and fellow hostage, and Paul Giamatti (son of A. Bartlett Giamatti, late president of Yale University and Commissioner of Baseball) as Rudy, an informer who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is directed with a certain air of incredulity by F. Gary Gray, who seems to make light of the fact that Danny had to take hostages to prove his point. The director continues to glamorize him for doing this despite the fact he is endangering the public and it can certainly be considered a criminal act. Gray leaves us no choice but to accept that this was Danny’s only way out of his troubles.

The film moves along at a quick pace and is an easy watch. It is suited for those who are not that demanding of a sensible storyline, preferring instead good action sequences.